Friday, November 2, 2018

Interview with John Ford Clayton, Author of the Political Thriller 'Manipulated'

John Ford Clayton lives in Harriman, Tennessee with his wife Kara, and canine companions Lucy, Ginger and Clyde. He has two grown sons, Ben and Eli, and a daughter-in-law, Christina. He earned a BS in Finance from Murray State University and an MBA from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He is active in his East Tennessee community having served on the local boards of the Boys and Girls Club and a federal credit union, on church leadership and creative teams, and on a parks and recreation advisory committee. When he’s not writing he works as a project management consultant supporting Federal project teams. John is a huge fan of Disney parks and University of Kentucky basketball. Visit his website at
Find out more about Manipulated
Tell us about your book! What is it about and what inspired you to write it?
Manipulated is a political thriller set during the 2016 presidential election season from January 2015 through January 2017. During these two years, a fictional account of the election is chronicled. The first half of the book provides a back story illustrating an American political system soiled by political parties, a misguided media, and lots and lots of money, all orchestrated by a clandestine organization known as Mouse Trap.
The second half of the book provides a glimpse at what the 2016 election might have looked like had a different candidate been introduced into the campaign. A candidate not bound to either political party, deep-pocket investors, or Washington insiders. A candidate who had absolutely no interest in the job but is drafted by those that know him best to fix a broken system. A candidate who personifies integrity, character, and humility, whose core values are guided by his faith.
If I could distill my writing inspiration into one word, it would be frustration. I’m very frustrated by the direction of the country. I’m very frustrated by how ill-informed or misinformed most Americans are. One specific anecdote that illustrates this phenomenon involves a friend I’ll call Sally. I know Sally well enough to know the core values she holds. Sally was trying to decide how she should cast her vote in a recent election and one candidate was very clearly aligned with Sally’s values. However, a co-worker convinced Sally to vote for a different candidate based on fear and invalid information. As much as I tried I couldn’t convince Sally to consider that she’d possibly been led astray. That she’d possibly been manipulated. My experience with many colleagues like Sally led me to write the story of Manipulated. Although it is a work of fiction, it is grounded in events that will hopefully sound familiar to the reader. My desire is not to convince – or manipulate – the reader, but to hopefully open their eyes to more critically consume information. 
Tell us about your publishing process. What was it like? Did you go indie or the traditional way?
I self-published Manipulated using the services of CreateSpace and Amazon. Before opting for self-publishing, I pursued traditional publishing through two rounds of queries. As most writers have experienced, agents receive too many queries to respond to aspiring writers. Rejection letters have been replaced by “if you haven’t heard from us in 8 weeks, assume we’re not interested.” I was not interested in a third (or fourth, fifth, sixth…) round of queries. I wanted Manipulated in the hands of readers. I met with a few small press and indie publishers, but I could not achieve a comfort level with those that I considered. I wanted more control of both the process and the schedule. Self-publishing was the best fit for my situation.
How did you choose the title for your book? Did it come to you right away, before you started writing it, or did it come later?
I had the title before I ever starting writing. The source of frustration that I wrote about earlier was in knowing that so many citizens, including many of my family and friends, were being manipulated. It was succinct title that captured the spirit of the book.
Tell us about the cover design process. Did you have a basic idea of what your book cover would be like?
The cover is the combination of an original rough concept I had, refined and perfected by my graphic artist.
The cover features a set of hands, each holding a puppet stick. From each stick hangs a series of strings. The strings are attached to symbols representing Hollywood, sports, both major American political parties, the media, the U.S. Capitol building, the music industry, and higher education.
In the fictional world where Manipulated takes place a clandestine organization named Mouse Trap, led by a man named Victor Youngblood, controls all of the institutions represented on the cover. Those institutions in turn influence - even manipulate - everyday Americans who are unsuspectingly going about their everyday lives. In my original concept I connected the institution symbols to representations of these everyday Americans, but as I sought feedback from trusted friends, the consistent message was that the cover was too busy.
In the background of the cover you'll see a torn American flag representing the damage that is being inflicted on the country by Victor and his cronies at Mouse Trap. Damage that includes a divided country where citizens are seemingly at odds over every issue.
Who is your cover designer and how did you find him/her?
My cover designer is Barbie Butterworth, of BarisGraphics. I found Barbie through a web search. I considered a number of designers before selecting Barbie. It was one of the best decisions I made.
How was your experience working with the designer?
Barbie was not only was great technically, but she caught my vision for the cover quickly. We made several tweaks before finalizing the cover and Barbie was quick to make each tweak. She knew the process well and was able to meet Amazon’s cover art specifications without issue. 
What has been the readers’ response to your cover?
There’s a lot happening on the cover of Manipulated, so it is not uncommon for readers to take a while to study it. I’ve found it is often a conversation-starter as people instinctively begin commenting on it. I haven’t had any questions about its meaning, so I think it has been effective in illustrating the subject matter of the book.
What tips would you give to authors who are looking for a cover designer?
I would start with a list of what you want out of your cover, then prioritize each item. Are you on a budget? If so, cost may be near the top of your list. Do you want original art? You’ll need to set aside time for it to be produced. What are the specifications of your publisher? That could influence what you are able to do on the cover.
I found producing a mockup, even if it is a crude hand drawing of what you are seeking out of the cover, will help the initial conversation with your designer. A picture is much easier to show than it is to describe in writing.
Anything else you’d like to say about your book?
If you’ve recently turned on the news or read the newspaper, it’s likely you walked away depressed and discouraged. The U. S., and much of the world, seems to be struggling through a period of bitter division. In the U. S. much of this discord is centered around politics. Your either on the Left or the Right and whichever you declare, you must hate the other. If you believe your TV, all of life’s events must be viewed through the lens of politics.
But, is your life really this way? Do you and your neighbor incessantly argue about the upcoming election? Are you and the person in the office next to you unable to carry on a professional conversation due to political differences? My anecdotal sample says that’s not the case. That most ordinary citizens go about their daily lives largely unaffected by the political persuasions of the person next to them. Then why does it seem so different when you turn on the news?
Manipulated attempts to answer this question. While a work of fiction, it is grounded in the premise that you are being manipulated. I hope you’ll consider reading Manipulated and it affects you the way in affected these readers:
“Talk about a timely book, "Manipulated" is it! Mr. Clayton makes you reconsider how all of us are influenced by today's instant information (or misinformation!) social media environment. Although fiction, it captures the real frustration that many of us have with our current political stalemate, but also reminds us that there is a viable solution, and that solution is us.”
“The author does a fantastic job of presenting current political issues in a fair and balanced manner. However, the “deep state” - government bureaucrats, main stream media, high-tech social media moguls, and big business can and will do whatever is necessary to circumvent the people and the democratic process. An autopsy of our current political system.”
“Ties together the prevalence of social media in our lives, Big Brother, media bias, and the feeling that good people don’t run for President. The perfect book for this time in America. You will never look at a Fox or CNN news report the same - I guarantee it.”
If you’re frustrated by what you hear, see, and read about American politics, my plea to you is that it doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to accept the status quo. You have the power to change it. I hope you find Manipulated provides some motivation to make that change.

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